In the summer of 2005, when I was aching with both pregnancy and my husband's absence, I met Flora.
We had just purchased a little point-and-shoot digital camera. I enjoyed pointing it at Reed, my burgeoning belly, and anything else that struck my fancy.
One day while Reed and I were on a walk, across the street from our apartment, we stopped to admire Flora's front yard. Rose bushes bordered the emerald-green grass, and tiger lilies lined the driveway. I noticed a particular rose bush that had lavender roses, and felt a much-missed sense of curiosity rise in my chest. I felt so heavy with the weight of having to experience this period of my life without Phill at home with us, and for some reason, those lavender roses gave me the lightness I desperately needed.
Flora came outside, standing by her door. I explained from the sidewalk that we were admiring her roses; that I'd never seen lavender ones before. She was flattered and pleased, and said I was welcome to enjoy them any time. She even encouraged me to take some home. Then I felt to ask her if maybe I could take some photos of them, and she agreed happily. However, she lamented that she should not venture further from her yard, as her immune system was weakened, and she ought not surround herself with children or a wide variety of people.
So I came back at a later date, having left Reed with my dear neighbor, and took photos of her roses. I did this several times in the course of the next few months. I needed to do it. It resolved something for me.
On one occasion, Flora explained to me that the rose bushes had been her husband's great talent. It was he who cared for them so expertly, and she was worried that after his death she hadn't properly maintained them. Not so, I countered. They were still so beautiful. She looked at one of the bushes closely and said, "Well, I shouldn't leave that there...." and bent to remove a bud that had grown brown and dry. Then she showed me where to remove the dead parts, the brown, the thin and crackly stems. She warned me that the beautiful blooms and green stems would be overcome by the dead parts if you didn't remove them.
I have since given plenty of thought to the symbolism in these mini-lessons from Flora. She herself was an example of overcoming obstacles and striving towards a more Christ-like life. When she was young, she had rheumatic fever, and it had weakened her heart. Still, she recovered and was married, and she and her husband, despite advice against it, wanted desperately to have a child. They tried for a while, but to no avail, and then adopted a baby. Shortly thereafter, she conceived. Towards the end of the pregnancy, her compromised heart was working so hard that she found herself at death's door. She said to me about this experience, "I was dying, and I didn't want to, and I told Heavenly Father that if he would just let me live a little longer, I would dedicate my life to serving Him." She lived, and she kept her promise, raising her children faithfully, loving her husband loyally, and working for countless hours in the Church's family history center after her husband's death. She is someone I think of every time I see a rose.
For the first few weeks after we got here in Texas, I was blundering through the daily routine with blinders on. I hardly noticed a thing, much less the outdoors. Everything felt a little blurry, a little less colorful, as if I were viewing things through cloudy glass. And then I think I grew sick of myself, and then desperate, and prayed for clear sight.
My prayer was answered with breathless speed. I woke up the next morning and actually saw what was around me. Specifically, a rose bush--in the front yard and the back yard. I felt ashamed for having missed something so beautiful. Then it wasn't enough to just stare at them, I had to experience them, too. So, starting with the back yard rose bush, I conducted a close inspection. Only one blossom, struggling for the light at the very top of the bush, and on its way out. I silently wished for the best and went to work with my bare hands, unable to resist clearing some of the brown from the branches. I wept openly, thinking, Let me help you, let me just clear away this dead stuff. Thinking to myself, Help me. Help me clear away the dead stuff. Thinking of Flora, of her dedication to things of lasting importance. Her careful pruning and attention to the choking chaff, both spiritual and botanical. I thought about my weaknesses, the things that had come to light during our relocation, the surprise useless branches amongst the more colorful blooms, and I prayed for help in clearing away those parts of my soul.
After pruning the rose bush, I felt lighter, like I did when I first saw the lavender roses in Flora's front yard. I wondered if my pruning had helped, and held a secret prayer in mind that it would. That night a thunderstorm rolled above us. Loud and relentless, it thrashed the foliage outside, and I wondered how my rose bush was doing. I worried about that lone blossom, hanging on for dear life in the furious winds outside.
The next morning I was anxious to see its fate. It was still there! Bent, battered, bruised. But still there. Still able to grow, still holding on. Again I felt an absurd, inexplicable joy in its resisting the storm. I directed my thoughts towards it, thinking, Oh, see how strong you are? And then I felt a whisper to my heart: Oh, see how strong you are? We are clearing away the dead stuff, and you are surviving the storm.
The more I pick on that bush, pulling at the crispy stuff and giving more room for the fresh green stuff, the more it blooms. And it's not just blooming now, it's exploding. I prune, it storms, and then it pulls out a showstopper, revealing not just two, three, or four new blossoms, but eight, sometimes more. It isn't just surviving the storms, the repeated reductions. It is thriving.